No matter if you like the AFC-NFC format or the Pro Bowl draft better, if the best four or six players at each position make the cut it, the results are just more accurate.
Regardless of that, I won’t take any respect away from the guys, who were selected, but instead I want to make a case for why the members of this list should have. For the most part, I thought fans got it right, but the NFL ballot makes it pretty hard to really put the best players on the respective conference’s roster. Most importantly they should start differentiating between positions they way scouts and I do – interior defensive linemen, edge rushers and stand-up linebackers. You just can’t compare guys like Von Miller and Anthony Barr. Their job description is just completely different and if you consider the Pro Bowl teams play with four down-linemen and no blitzes for the most part, what sense does it make having an edge-setting and rushing linebacker in the line-up playing off the ball when you already have two defensive ends? This is my take on the voting process. The fact I personally favorized the Pro Bowl draft is a different topic. Now here’s who I thought deserved to go to Orlando:
Matthew Stafford, QB
I have heard people talk about how overrated Matthew Stafford is and what his record against playoff teams is, but the fact of the matter is that he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Don’t look at the numbers or the record, just put on the tape. Stafford can make throws only two or three other guys in the league can, he makes things happen with his legs when the play isn’t there and he has proven his toughness time and time again, taking big shots and playing through injuries. Even though Stafford’s style of play can look a little chaotic at times, he actually has the mental capabilities to pick defenses apart. He will absolutely stare down a receiver to be able to hit the guy he actually wanted to go to all along right in the middle of the throwing motion. The Lions have an excellent duo of wide receiver and some guys who can take away the football on defense, but make no mistake – this team wouldn’t win more than a couple of games with some average signal-caller. I mean the last Detroit RB, who rushed for over 100 yards in a game was Reggie Bush more than four years ago and the defense has been suspect for the last several seasons. Stafford is special. He is one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the league and can do some things only a select few are capable of.
Andrew Whitworth, OT
Just look at the difference at that left tackle spot for the Rams this year compared to 2016. Their entire offense and especially the O-line were a mess last season. With Sean McVay bringing a new wind to that unit, combined with some important free agent and draft additions, this is a different team. Of course, the brilliant scheming of their new head coach and those skill-position players are a huge reason for their success, but in terms of on the field, I believe Whitworth has made the biggest difference for LA. The offensive line has given up just 24 sacks all season after surrendering 49 last year, which was the second-worst mark in the league. Not only that, if you look at Todd Gurley’s numbers, you can see he went from 3.2 to 4.6 yard per carry. I think John Sullivan has fit in nicely at center, but other than him, only Whitworth was new to this line-up. Obviously, this is bigger than just the play up front, but just watch the Rams pound that team up in Seattle last Sunday and when you come to that 57-yard TD run from Todd Gurley, you might want to pay attention to the left tackle washing down his man. The 12-year vet might have given up a few sacks, but not many hurries outside of that and they can leave him one-on-one throughout games.
Jason Kelce, C
This guy is the top-rated center by Pro Football Focus and the only one I might put above him would be Alex Mack. Kelce has allowed just one sack all year for six yards. Combined with two false starts and a holding penalty, he therefore has accounted for 31 total negative yards. On the other hand he has been a crucial piece to a Philly offense, that is rated third in total yards and first in points scored. The Eagles have had games, in which their offensive line took over and they gashed opponents with their combination of running backs, while in others the ‘big uglies’ protected their MVP candidate quarterback, who had time to scan the entire field. Without Jason Peters at left tackle their offensive front might not be as dominant as it was earlier in the season, but their center has been a consistent performer for them all year long. The offensive coaching staff has asked a lot from Kelce, who is one of the very players at the position, who can pull around and get his hands on linebackers in space. He also has outstanding lateral quickness to stay in front of defenders even if his guards have to step away from him, he can reach 1-technique nose tackles in the run game a he excels at combo-blocking and passing off his responsibility.
Tyreek Hill, WR
After the ‘Cheetah’ was a gadget player last year, the Chiefs basically made him their number wide receiver after letting Jeremy Maclin go. This season he has used the respect opponents have given him and exploited the cushion to pick up easy yardage on hitches and curls, but he didn’t forget how to burn DBs deep despite that fear of him going over the top. Hill made the 2018 Pro Bowl – just at the wrong position. Last season he averaged 27.4 yards per kick and 15.2 per punt return, with a total of three touchdowns. This season he has yet to return a kickoff and his average per punt has plummeted to 8.5, with one score. No question, Hill is one of the most electric players in all of football and there’s very few guys I’d rather have catch the ball and try to outrun 11 men charging down on him, but number 10’s impact has come more so as a true receiver. So far on the year, he already has caught eight more passes for almost 500 more yards than he did in all of 2016. And while Andy Reid and now Matt Nagy have still tried to put the ball in his hands quickly, he is no longer limited to taking handoffs, catching screens and going deep. Hill runs slants, outs, hitches, skinny posts, corners and of course he is still a homerun-threat on vertical routes.
Cameron Heyward, DL
Not having this man in the Pro Bowl simply is a crime. He has 10 sacks and 14 tackles for loss on the year as a five-technique defensive end – that’s unheard of. Heyward continuously disrupts the run game and pushes the pocket throughout games. Not only is he consistent every week, he has had some games he absolutely took over. He completely overwhelmed Green Bay back in week 12 when he won AFC Defensive Player of the Week with two sacks and 2.5 TFLs. Those 3-4 defensive ends rarely get the recognition they deserve, because they are asked to control their man instead of being allowed to shoot through gaps and put their names on the stat sheet, but when you have someone like this man, who does put up big numbers as well, I don’t really understand why people wouldn’t appreciate him. I think it’s kind of ironic as well that the Steelers lead all teams with eight Pro Bowlers and their best active defender (if you want to put Ryan Shazier’s name above the guy in front of him) didn’t make the cut. That is another reason, I would strongly consider differentiating between interior defensive linemen and edge players, because Heyward probably lost quite a few votes to those 4-3 D-ends with two or three sacks more than him.
Melvin Ingram, Edge
I published an article about the top duos in today’s NFL a couple of weeks back and I stated that Ingram and Joey Bosa are the best combination of edge rushers right now, but I actually believe Ingram even is a little better than his partner in crime. He is fourth in total defensive pressure with 69, but fans didn’t vote enough for him because he ‘only’ has ten sacks on the year. Ingram is a fastball off the edge, stressing offensive tackles and their horse-kicks constantly. But he’s much more than just a one-trick pony. With 17 tackles for loss, he is third in the league behind only Chandler Jones and Jadeveon Clowney. I’ve been rooting for this guy ever since I saw him play at South Carolina and when he fell to the Chargers in that 2012 draft, I said he was the steal of the first round. I mean, which other edge rusher have you ever seen run a punt-fake for a 69-yard touchdown? He would be my only one. Ingram has gotten better each year when he was healthy and now he is one of the elite at the position and still doesn’t get the credit he deserves. That’s a shame.
Telvin Smith, LB
I’m not quite sure what the fans think of Smith or if he would have made the cut, if there was a category for edge rushers and off-ball linebackers, like I mentioned in my introduction, but I believe his chances would have certainly been better. While the NFL in fact categorizes Smith as an outside linebacker, he is lined up in between the tackles in their nickel and dime packages. His speed is unmatched at the position and that’s backed up by Next Gen Stats, as he has measured the highest mph of any linebacker. Naturally, he can already make plays nobody else can from that spot, but it’s incredible he does it with his 220-pound frame. Scouts questioned his size coming out of Florida State, but he has proven all doubters wrong and he is just all over the place. He can blow up wide receiver screens, chasing all the way towards the sideline, shoot gaps and come up with tackles for loss or simply run down guys with 4.3-type speed. So far on the season, he has 86 tackles, five pass-deflections and three INTs, with one of them going to the house, plus a fumble recovery in the opposing endzone and another one returned for 50 yards. I know he’s not a household name quite yet and he has the luxury of playing behind a tremendous Sacksonville D-line, but I don’t know what else Smith has to do to get the nod.
Tre’Davious White, CB
Let me start by saying this – I’m extremely glad Marshon Lattimore made the cut. The Saints rookie has been one of the elite players at the position when he was healthy. However, I’m not a hundred percent sure who I would name Defensive Rookie of the Year right now just because of what Tre’Davious White has done. While Lattimore is a superior athlete compared to the Bills corner and I would choose him over probably anybody not named Jalen Ramsey for the next ten years, that other guy out of LSU has truly made a name for himself. If you watched him over the course of the season, you saw him get beat at times, but he always had the mentality that he would come back the next play and he has done so week after week. With four interceptions, one fumble forced and one returned for a touchdown??? he has made plenty of impact plays. That forced fumble against the Buccaneers set up their game-winning drive and one of his picks came on the Chiefs’ final drive in a six-point game. Buffalo let go of their two starting cornerbacks before the season kicked off and White was asked to step in week one. That’s the main advantage he would have over the other rookies in my opinion. He has been asked to face off against some of the top receivers in the game and he hasn’t backed down once. With 18 pass-deflections adding to those takeaways I mentioned, he is having a tremendous season.
Harrison Smith, S
It’s pretty hard to designate Smith as either a free or strong safety. He’s neither one as well as both of them really. When you put on the tape and look at the way the Vikings align their safeties, you can see that Mike Zimmer’s unit uses them in a very unique way. Harrison Smith is basically the boundary safety, while Andrew Sendejo stays on the field side, which is the wider one. In fact, they also do that with their linebackers. No matter how you want to define his position, Smith is absolutely one of the best safeties in football. He might not put up monster numbers in terms of interceptions, but he is so versatile and does a lot of the dirty work. He sets the edge in the run game like no DB in the league can, he can cover slot receivers man-to-man, is a tremendous blitzer off the edge and when he plays high safety, he has the speed to cover a lot of ground as well as being a secure tackler. If he’s not the last line of the defense, he is a flying missile, looking to take out ball-carriers and he has earned the nickname ‘Hitman’. I understand that fans can get caught up in statistics, but Smith’s presence allows the Vikes to be that aggressive inside and his attitude at pursuing the ball is just ridiculous.
Others well deserving:
Alex Smith (QB)
Jordan Howard (RB)
Evan Engram (TE)
David Bakhtiari (OT)
Akiem Hicks (DL)
Grady Jarrett (DL)
Linval Joseph (DL)
Jannick Ngakoue (Edge)
Brandon Graham (Edge)
Desmond Trufant (CB)
Kevin Byard (FS)
Justin Tucker (K)
Adoree Jackson (RS)
Michael Thomas (ST)
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